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[U] Nalls v. Miller

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

February 20, 2014

EDDIE NALLS, Appellant
v.
CORRECTIONS OFFICER E. MILLER, Appellee

NON-PRECEDENTIAL DECISION

Appeal from the Order July 30, 2013, Court of Common Pleas, Cambria County, Civil Division at No. 2012-0429

BEFORE: FORD ELLIOTT, P.J.E., DONOHUE and PLATT [*] , JJ.

MEMORANDUM

DONOHUE, J.

Appellant, Eddie Nalls ("Nalls"), appeals the trial court's order dated July 30, 2013, which granted the preliminary objections of Appellee, Corrections Officer Eric Miller ("CO Miller"), and dismissed Nalls' Amended Complaint. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the trial court's order.[1]

In his Amended Complaint, Nalls alleged that on May 12, 2011, he was incarcerated at SCI-Cresson. Amended Complaint, 1/20/2013, at ¶ 12. Nalls was located in the large yard when a brutal inmate-on-inmate attack occurred (not involving Nalls), resulting in an institutional lockdown at the facility. Id. at ¶ 15. The prison staff was instructed to conduct cell and strip searches of the inmates to confiscate contraband and weapons. Id. at ¶ 18. According to the Amended Complaint, the strip searches on the day in question (other than Nalls') were all conducted in the following manner: one cellmate would be ordered to exit and the other would be alone in the cell with the guard; with the cell door closed, the inmate would then strip and hand his clothes to the guard; the inmate would then brush his hands through his hair, open his mouth wide, raise his arms, then lift his genitals and bend over spreading his buttocks exposing his anus. Id. at ¶ 19. The strip search then completed, that inmate would exit and the other inmate would enter for the same procedure. Id.

According to Nalls, his strip search on May 12, 2011 was conducted differently. CO Miller allegedly entered Nalls' cell and ordered him to strip down without first directing his cellmate to exit. Id. at ¶ 25. Nalls contends that at this time he requested that his cellmate exit and that the cell door be closed before he disrobed, but that CO Miller threatened that he would be sent to the "fucking hole" if he did not disrobe immediately. Id. at ¶ 25-26. Nalls alleges that he was thus forced to finish the strip search with his cellmate still present and the cell door "completely agape." Id. at ¶ 27. According to Nalls, this resulted in embarrassment and humiliation since he was required to expose himself "with a female staff and other inmates known to be in the immediate area and/or vicinity with the cell lights emitting." Id. at ¶ 32.

In the Amended Complaint, Nalls set forth three causes of action. First, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Nalls claims that CO Miller's actions constituted an unreasonable search and violated his constitutional rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Id. at ¶ 56-57. Second, Nalls contends that CO Miller's actions constituted an intentional tort of battery.[2] Id. at ¶ 58-61. Third, Nalls alleges that CO Miller treated him differently during the strip search procedure and thus violated his constitutional right to equal treatment under the law pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 26 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

On March 15, 2013, CO Miller filed preliminary objections in the nature of demurrers to Nalls' Amended Complaint. By an opinion and order dated July 30, 2013, the trial court sustained the preliminary objections and dismissed Nalls' Amended Complaint. This appeal followed, in which Nalls raises the following two issues for our consideration and determination:

1. Whether [Nalls] stated a claim that [CO Miller] violated [Nalls'] state and federal constitutional rights when [CO Miller] conducted [Nalls'] strip search in an abusive manner and in a place in view of other inmates and a female prison counselor?
2. Whether [Nalls] stated a claim that [CO Miller] violated [Nalls'] state and federal constitutional rights to equal protection when [CO Miller] intentionally strip searched [Nalls] differently from that of similarly-situated individuals without rational basis for the difference in the treatment?

Nalls' Brief at 4.

Our standard of review from an order sustaining preliminary objections in the nature of demurrers is as follows:

[O]ur standard of review of an order of the trial court overruling or granting preliminary objections is to determine whether the trial court committed an error of law. When considering the appropriateness of a ruling on preliminary objections, the ...

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